“The body is one unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink… Now the body is not made up of one part but of many… The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
-1 Corinthians 12:12-26
It never takes long before reality abruptly drags me back down to earth as the twinkle in my eye is met by a vacant, disbelieving stare, and I am quickly reminded of the rare form that exists here in this particular, obscure vein of LA. I suppose I ought to just keep it to myself sometimes, but it’s so difficult once you’ve tasted and seen just how beautiful it can be. You want everyone to know, to experience it too. But in the same breath, I do recognize that I might fare well to spend more time praising the beauty of my present circumstances rather than always harping on what was like some broken record. What can I say… I’m working on it.
I just got back from 5 days spent in L.A. [and by ‘just,’ I mean like 2 weeks ago- which is how long I’ve been writing this stupid post... but that’s besides the point]. This was my first visit since I moved to Portland 4 1/2 months ago. In many ways those past months feel as though they’ve stretched on and on, and yet, sitting back in that familiar territory surrounded by so many dear heart-friends, it somehow felt as though I’d never left and very little, if anything, had changed at all. I was right back in the same room where I had spent the last two months of my time in L.A. with my sweet roommate, Emily, next door to our dear friends Rachel & Jon, directly behind the sweetest southern couple you have ever had the privilege of knowing who also happen to lead our community group, and just a few blocks away from several other great friends, with the number ever increasing. Mornings easily filled up with last-minute invitations to coffee & breakfast, frequent barbecues seemed to plan themselves, and life, in all of it’s chaos and brokenness seemed to just unfold effortlessly, together.
I did not grow up “in the church,” or perhaps you might say, with specific, consistent exposure to a body of believers in any way. My parents were believers and raised us kids under the guidance and instruction of the Word as best they knew how, but it did not extend much beyond the boundaries of our property line. With that said, I have always had a very strong conscience toward the Lord, however, it wasn’t until mid-way through my college years that I discovered for the first time the genuine, authentic, unsurpassed beauty of the active, thriving Body of Christ by way of the Church. I’m not talking about a building where people gather once a week and sing songs and guzzle down coffee to stay awake during the sermon to then head promptly back to their *normal* lives. No, and if that’s your experience, while it’s not all bad, I’m genuinely sorry. When I make reference to the Church, the images that spring up in my mind and heart are not of checklists and placating some distant God for yet another week, but rather of a group of people who intentionally, by the abundant grace of God, find a way to come together to meet each other’s needs, to carry each other’s burdens, to share in joys and sorrows, laughing together, mourning together, eating together, serving together, learning together, and especially forgiving together. Simply put: to do this crazy, broken, beautiful thing called life… together. It’s an incredible concept really once it sinks in that through all of life’s ups and downs, no matter how dark the valley, no matter how steep the climb, we never have to journey it alone. We were created for community. Perhaps this sounds elementary to some of you, but for me, I was genuinely unaware of this beautifully intrepid way of doing life all throughout my adolescence and well into early adulthood.
I remember the first time someone expressly explained the concept of the trinity to me. Yes, God is One, and there is none other. However, our One God exists in three parts, you might say… that is [in a way that is still difficult for me to wrap my mind around], God exists in community with Himself; always has [see John 1:1-5]. And when God created Adam, he created him in His own likeness, to be an image bearer of his glory and character. With that, God deemed it not good for him to be alone. It was necessary for man, as image bearers of the living God, to exist and thrive in the context of community, just like God. Insert Eve, and suddenly, as the two began dwelling in communion with God and one another, creation was deemed by the Creator, for the very first time to be very good.
With that said, somehow, by the grace of God, I discovered this reality in college and have not since let go of the concept. In fact, it just keeps getting better.
When I moved out to the west side after graduation with my fun, adventure-loving, [did I mention beautiful?] roommate Jill, we searched for quite some time to find a community we could dive into. And to be honest, it took more time than we would have liked. Several months went by before we even discovered Reality L.A., and then several months more beyond that before genuine community and deeper friendships began to take root and spring up out of that dry season. This is the second lesson I had to learn about community in my life [the first being that authentic community exists and is essential for gospel-centered living]: it takes work, it takes investment, risk and time. Community doesn’t just happen to us… it’s something we collectively build, literally. So invest we did, and over the course of the next year and a half, the incredible friendships that developed are unlike anything I could have ever anticipated. I spent seven years of my life in Southern California, and yet, the people I met in my last year and a half down there are some of the dearest, most authentic friendships I’ve ever known. They are the people I book last minute flights to go see, simply so I can sit in their presence while sipping hot coffee, soaking up life’s little joys along the way. And they are the reason I love L.A. They taught me what genuine community really looks like in all it’s rare and lovely form, dysfunctions not excluded. Joys celebrated together, and disappointments cushioned by a blow of grace, every time. It’s not perfect, but it’s real, and it’s always worth it.
And now, as my bones are readjusting to the deep chill that boasts its dominion over the air here in Portland, soothed by copious amounts of hot coffee, I am reminded once again, that the Church is not confined by city limits or building walls or demographics or anything at all. And if that is true, then neither is community. 4 1/2 months later and the blessing of this sweet truth has already been poured out over me in more ways than I can count. This is the lesson I’m currently learning about community… it exists wherever you choose to build it. Furthermore, most everyone is longing for it, whether they cognitively acknowledge it or not. So when jaded expressions from those who think me a bit hyperbolic attempt to dissolve my joy, I shall choose instead to invite them to take part in the irresistible revolution that exists right here. For as the Lord has kindly been revealing to me in fresh ways every day, our joy as children of the King is not circumstantial. I won’t find it in L.A. or in blue skies, stunning beaches or sun-kissed skin [although these things certainly don’t hurt!]. But as I lean into the beauty of the body that is all around, glimpses of eternity reflected in every pair of eyes that meet my own, I know that then and only then will the words of Paul begin to be fulfilled in our city and in our world: that there may be “no division in the body.” And when this is true, there is more than enough joy to go around.
So let us all bring our varied gifts, talents and shortcomings alike to the table. Then by the grace of God our Father, may we find the strength to stay at the table. Invest. And thrive. Because “life is a gorgeous broken gift, six billion+ pieces, waiting to be fixed.” May we make our way through the shards of glass together. May we heal together. And may we usher in the Kingdom of God here on earth… together.
Grace & Peace